The ‘Try Guys’ are spreading Jewish food joy on YouTube

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The Try Guys. Courtesy of TryGuys.com

BY MIYA LIBMAN, THE NOSHER

Shalom! You’re looking at a hot little Jew.”

That’s how Zach Kornfeld of the Try Guys introduced his creation to a panel of judges on “Without a Recipe: Tacos,” one of the group’s most popular YouTube shows.

The Try Guys, made up of Zach Kornfeld, Keith Habersberger and Eugene Lee-Yang, started as a series on Buzzfeed in 2014, where they became known for being willing to try anything, from wearing women’s underwear to feeding wild animals in Alaska. In 2018, they moved to form their own independent media company and have since gained increasing popularity with biweekly posts and popular YouTube series.

On YouTube, Zach has always represented his Jewish heritage proudly. He’s mentioned repeatedly that his love for video creation stems from receiving a Lego Movie Maker kit for Hanukkah when he was younger. And as the Try Guys’ resident Jew, he’s done everything from dressing as a sexy dreidel to the time he made a gingerbread bar mitzvah on “Without a Recipe.” But now, at a time when antisemitism is increasingly visible on social media, the Try Guys channel as a whole has been representing Jewish food and culture proudly.

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Any fan of the Try Guys is familiar with their recurring shows “Eat the Menu” and “Without a Recipe.” In the former, Keith sets out to eat every item on the menu of various restaurants; while the series originated with fast food it has branched out to more formal restaurants. In “Without a Recipe,” the guys are challenged to create various baked goods completely without a recipe, leading to crazy concoctions and, sometimes, sweet surprises. In recent editions of both series, the Try Guys have embraced Jewish food culture wholeheartedly.

In the most recent installment of “Eat the Menu,” released on December 1, Keith featured Katz’s Delicatessen. He opened the episode with the history of Katz’s Deli, and sampled everything from kugel to knishes, bagels to babka, and pickles to pastrami. Along the way, Keith invited his friends, including Zach Kornfeld as well as Alex Lewis and Hughie Stone Fish of the band Lewberger to taste parts of the menu with him. While Keith isn’t Jewish, Zach, Hughie and Alex are, and shared the Jewish significance of, and their own relationship to, the dishes they tried.

“A lot of Jewish Ashkenazi food comes from Europe at a time when the Jews were really living as second-class citizens. We had to just make the most out of what we could,” Hughie explained as the kishke was brought out.

Alex shared the rhyme his mom used to sing: “Ishka, pishka, kick in the kishke.”

Keith, for his part, did not judge food prematurely – even the dishes not traditionally eaten in non-Jewish communities, including tongue omelet, kishke and chopped liver. He even surprised himself by liking kishke, declaring it the secret winner of the episode.

A few days later, the Try Guys uploaded an edition of “Without a Recipe” where they were challenged to make tacos, including tortillas, from scratch. Zach set out to represent his Jewish heritage by making a Jewish deli “latko,” featuring a rye-bread-inspired tortilla, pastrami, coleslaw, latke bits and pickles. Throughout the judging, Zach never missed an opportunity to insert his own brand of Jewish humor, telling the judges his taco was “some Old Testament shit.” And (spoiler alert!) Zach’s taco won the episode.

Keith, who earned second place with a Thanksgiving-inspired taco, commented that “Judaism deserves a win more than colonialism, so I’m gonna side with the judges on this one.”

It has been a challenging time for many in the Jewish community, me included, to be on the internet and see the comfort and ease with which people spew antisemitic rhetoric. The Try Guys’ playful emphasis on the significance and deliciousness of Jewish food brings a levity and joy to Jewish representation in the media that’s desperately needed right now.

As an avid Try Guys watcher, I have always felt represented by the guys. (I happen to be Jewish like Zach, Korean like Eugene, and a band kid like Keith.) It is not rare to find Jewish food creators on YouTube or other media platforms, but it’s special to find a group that is not specifically a Jewish food channel to be so open and celebratory of Jewish cuisine. And it’s special to see that this celebration is not restricted to Zach or Jewish guests, but can be partaken in by Keith and other members of the Try Guys channel. The prevalence of Jewish heritage and cultural representation in their most recent videos have made me even more proud to be a fan.

On “Eat the Menu: Katz’s Deli,” Zach joked about having an all-Jewish season of “Without a Recipe.” While it may have started as a joke, I would love to see a Jewish season of the show (my pitch would be for babka, matzah ball and rugelach episodes). But until then, I’ll be rewatching these videos and celebrating the joy in Jewish food — and maybe making myself a latko to go with it.